It’s that time of year again. Time to buy your wife a new dress, put on the tuxedo, rent the limousine, and head on over to…Disneyland! No, I’m not talking about the park, but rather the Disneyland Hotel. On March 17, the Themed Entertainment Association will be hosting the 18th annual Thea Awards. Now, if you’re fairly new to the behind-the-scenes side of the themed entertainment world, you might be asking yourself “The what?”, just like I did. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at what they are and who they go to.
The Themed Entertainment Association, or TEA, is “an international non-profit association representing the world’s leading creators, developers, designers and producers of compelling places and experiences.” Basically, it’s a group of very creative people behind the themed attractions that we all experience and love. Whether it’s a whale show at a theme park, an interactive history of space travel at a museum, or a state-of-the-art themed roller coaster, these are the people that dream up the vision and make it a reality.
The TEA was first conceptualized in the late 1980’s by the small companies that were hired by the likes of Disney and Universal, known as owner/operators, to create unique experiences for their park guests. By joining forces, these smaller companies believed they would be able to help each other out. In 1991, the TEA became official with 30 founding members. Through the use of networking, newsletters, and meetings, members were able to share ideas, help each other find jobs, and further grow their companies. Although TEA started with membership only for the vendors and suppliers of the industry, Disney and Universal led the way in convincing them to eventually allow the owner/operators to join the association as well, and the partnership continues to this day.
During the first two years of existence, the TEA hosted a formal gathering to honor an individual for their outstanding contributions to the industry. Based on the success of these events, the TEA decided to expand the event and add other awards for outstanding achievements, and the Thea Awards were born. That explains why even though TEA is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, we are getting ready for the 18th annual Thea Awards next month.
The Thea Awards were designed to acknowledge outstanding achievement in the industry, not individuals. There is a window of time in which any TEA member can nominate an attraction or event for a Thea Award. Once that window closes, the nomination committee jumps into action to screen all of the nominees and narrow the list down to that year’s winners. This process can take months as they learn everything they can about each nominee, whether through personal experience from someone on the committee, or reviewing photos and/or videos. It’s impossible for every committee member to be able to experience every nominated experience first hand. There were roughly 140 submissions made this year alone.
In order to keep the awards fresh, there is not a fixed list of awards that are given out each year. Awards are given out to those nominees that the committee feels are deserving. This also prevents them from trying to shoehorn a nominee into a category that it doesn’t belong just because that particular award needs a winner. This means that the number of awards given out each year varies. For example, last year there were 15 awards and this year there will be 16 awards presented. There is always a Buzz Price Thea Award, formerly known as the Thea Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to an individual for their contribution to the industry. There is also a Thea Classic Award, presented to an attraction that has withstood the test of time. All of the other awards are called Awards for Outstanding Achievement, or AOAs.